Wednesday Open Thread: Favorite Christmas Carols

Memorial crosses in the snowAt Saturday’s protest, we restored 70 of the memorial crosses torn apart by city workers after the November protest. Here are two of them, and if you look to the lower left corner of this picture you can see how effectively the booted feet of our two hundred picketers cleared the sidewalk. In anticipation of this Saturday’s “Empty Manger” Christmas Caroling Day, I thought I would launch the Wednesday Open Thread with this question: What is your favorite Christmas carol? Hands down, my favorite carol is “Silent Night”. I especially love Franz Gruber’s original melody and the six original verses in German by Fr. Josef Mohr. The German lyrics are more earthy and detailed than the English translation we know; they speak of the holy infant’s “curly hair” and “how he laughs”. There’s a kind of rapture over the Baby Jesus in many German carols (I try to learn a couple new ones every year). I find lines like “Oh, how I want to be Yours,” and “Your beauty goes right to the heart of me”—reminiscent of the feelings that a parent has over a newborn baby. These carols get at something essential about the Christmas mystery, that God the Son is born not only as Lord and Savior but as a baby to be cared for as parent would do. There’s a sense in which we nurse the life of Jesus within us, just as Mary nursed Jesus—we give our own inner life over to Him. Another favorite carol, in a completely different vein, is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, a plaintive carol that affirms but then responds to the feelings of woe that can taint this season. This carols also illustrates the importance of learning all the verses of a song, for if you sang only the first one you’d think it’s nothing more than a sweet song about hearing bells:

I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play, And mild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men. And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along the unbroken song Of peace on earth, good will to men. And in despair I bowed my head “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.” Till ringing, singing on its way The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime Of peace on earth, good will to men.

(I understand that originally the last two stanzas of this carol, as written by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow during the Civil War ,were much darker, with no glimpse of hope.) So: What is your favorite Christmas carol?

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